Fresh salmon doesn't only come from the fish market. If you're a wet-behind-the-ears Northwesterner hankering to try salmon fishing, here are tips to get you out there.
On a crisp recent morning, Frank Urbanski, of Stanwood, watched his teenage son, Seth, react to a tug on his fishing line as they trolled Puget Sound waters off Edmonds. Around them, ferries crisscrossed against a backdrop of tree-covered bluffs and rocky shorelines.
Seth leapt up, grabbed the rod and jerked it upward at just the right time. The fish on the other end fought, but Seth held on, cranking away at the reel.
As the fish landed in the bottom of the boat, Frank Urbanski smiled. “This is his first salmon. First one he gets on the line, and he brings it in. Better than his old man,” he said.
The Urbanskis were on an outing with Paul and Emmon Snyder — Frank Urbanski’s college roommate and his son — who had come out from Montana to experience a different type of fishing than they find in the rivers of their home state.
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They were joining a tradition that has gone on for thousands of years in the Pacific Northwest: bringing salmon home to smoke and put up for the winter.
A lot of people associate acquiring salmon with, say, Pike Place Market, and many are happy to leave it at that. But catching your own salmon isn’t all that difficult, and it offers a chance to taste the freshest fish, enjoy the outdoors — and bond with fellow anglers.
Anyone with a rod and reel and some bait stands a chance of catching salmon, but without some understanding of how to find them and catch them, it could take a while.
You don’t need to go far to try your luck with salmon. The north end of Puget Sound, where the Urbanskis and Snyders were fishing with captain Gary Krein of All Star Fishing Charters (www.allstarfishing.com), happens to be a great spot to catch them.
By this time of year, anglers are thinking about winter fishing, since numbers of coho (also known as silver) salmon are tapering off by now. But not so much this year.
Krein has been fishing for salmon in the Sound for 28 years, and this is one of the best years he’s ever seen. On this trip, the group caught its limit of two per person, a combination of coho and chum salmon. Sport fishermen don’t often catch chum in saltwater, “so for us to catch coho and chum is pretty neat,” Krein said.
Still, saltwater coho and chum fishing is slowing down a bit, and anglers are turning their thoughts to blackmouth (immature chinook salmon). The small fish they eat, such as herring, like to hide near rocky outcroppings or beside underwater cliffs, so your best bet is to know where those are.
Typically, saltwater salmon fishing involves a downrigger, a contraption that keeps the bait, lure and hook at a constant depth of anywhere from a few to more than 100 feet. As for rods, “You don’t need specialized stuff,” Krein said. “You look at the boats, and everybody has something different. You can catch fish on anything.”
You do want a good quality reel for when the fish take off like torpedoes once they’re hooked.
Two important rules first-time salmon anglers should know but sometimes don’t: Always use barbless hooks, and don’t bring a fish into your boat if you can’t keep it. If, for example, it’s a wild salmon in an area where only hatchery salmon can be kept (hatchery salmon will have the adipose fins on their backs clipped), remove the hook over the water and release the fish immediately.
“All this is geared toward keeping healthy wild stocks,” said Ryan Lothrop, Puget Sound recreational salmon fishery manager for the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife.
Some salmon anglers also set out crab pots while they’re at it; the crab fishery is open through Dec. 31 in most of northern Puget Sound (but check regulations and make sure your license includes the right endorsements).
Boatless in Seattle?
So, what do you do if you don’t own a boat? You have a couple of options. It is possible to fish for salmon from the shore — Ebey’s Landing on Whidbey Island is a popular spot — but it’s harder without the ability to troll through deep water.
To get a sense of fishing, tackle and techniques, consider joining a charter. They’re cheaper per person if you go with a group.
Another option: Join a fishing club. The Puget Sound area has a number of fishing clubs, some devoted to anglers of all stripes and some to specific types of fishing. Clubs often have meetings and bring in speakers to talk about fisheries, fishing techniques or conservation.
For salmon fishing, consider joining the Seattle Poggie Club, which meets the third Wednesday of each month in the Wallingford Community Senior Center (meetings are open to the public).
“We do have members who have boats and will take people out, depending on what’s running and what’s in season,” said John Mataka, club secretary.
Then there’s the venerable Puget Sound Anglers, an umbrella organization with many chapters around Western Washington. The group is for both saltwater and freshwater anglers looking to catch pretty much anything the region has to offer, including salmon.
“Each chapter works independently but as members get involved there are opportunities to fish with others in their boat or ride-share to a river bank,” said member Steve Bagley, of Auburn. “Members with more experience are always willing to help others on the outing.”
Freelance writer Christy Karras lives in Seattle.